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Dilemmas of Reconciliation

Interview with Carol A.L. Prager and Trudy Grovier, editors

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How did we get interested in dilemmas of reconciliation?

Carol is a political scientist and has for many years been a serious scholar of international relations. She came to understand the importance of coexisting and reconciling in the wake of serious conflicts, seeing the prospect of recovery as fundamental for any sense of optimism about international relations. Trudy is a philosopher who did considerable research for several books on trust. In the course of that project, someone suggested to her that a crucial theme about trust was how to restore it once it has been broken. Trudy visited South Africa in 1997, when the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was holding its hearings, and found themes of forgiveness and reconciliation treated daily in the media.

What is this book about?

The book is about reconciliation in politics and the tensions and difficulties involved. These tensions are both intellectual and practical, leading to such themes as collective responsibility, inconsistent narratives, and competition between desires for retributively grounded punishment and values such as social justice and peace. The book explores key concepts such as acknowledgement and reconciliation and, in addition, includes detailed and pertinent discussions of particular cases, including those of South Africa, Guatemala, Cambodia, and post-Soviet Russia.

What strategies have been employed, as means towards the goals of political reconciliation?

Such strategies include the holding of trials for persons accused of committing war crimes, the conducting of truth commissions, the awarding of reparations and compensation, the issuing of public apologies, the establishment of various public memorials, and programs of inter-personal reconciliation involving key individuals. These strategies are not mutually exclusive.

What are the most serious obstacles to political reconciliation?

In general, lack of acknowledgement by perpetrators of serious wrongs is the most crucial obstacle. Other obstacles include lingering feelings of anger, resentment, and hatred; desire for vengeance; disparities in social and economic power; and a lack of resources to be applied to reconstruction and reconciliation.

Why is this book important?

Given the frequency of serious political conflicts, one can see that prospects depend crucially on our capacity to recover from them. If we cannot recover, we are doomed to repeat the violence of the past, and there is little hope for a positive future. Dilemmas of reconciliation do not arise only for persons in far-away countries. They affect Canadians and Canadian society in many ways. The outstanding issue of relations between aboriginal and non-aboriginal Canadians stands out here. Also affecting Canada are far-away conflicts from which refugees and immigrants come to our country. Finally, as was painfully illustrated by the events of September 11, contemporary political conflicts now have global potential.